Sensor Tower Secretly Collecting Data From VPN and Ad-Blocking Apps on iOS and Android

Sensor Tower, an analytics platform that aggregates data on app downloads and usage for developers, has been secretly collecting data from millions of Android and iOS users who have installed popular VPN and ad-blocking apps, reports Buzzfeed News.

Luna VPN, one of the VPN apps owned by Sensor Tower that asked users to install an enterprise certificate

These apps, which are owned by Sensor Tower, do not disclose that their user data powers Sensor Tower's analytics platforms. iOS and Android users have downloaded the apps more than 35 million times.

Some of Sensor Tower's 20 or more apps on iOS and Android include Adblock Focus and Luna VPN, with the former having been removed by Apple after Buzzfeed News alerted Apple's App Store team about the existence of the app. Free and Unlimited VPN and Mobile Data were also on the Google Play Store, but Google has since removed Mobile Data.

When installed, Sensor Tower's apps are designed to prompt users to install a root certificate, which lets Sensor Tower monitor all traffic and data passing through the phone. Sensor Tower bypasses Apple and Google's restrictions on root certificate privileges by requiring users to install the certificate through an external website.

Sensor Tower told Buzzfeed News that it collects anonymized usage and analytics data to determine the popularity, usage trends, and revenue of apps. Ownership of the apps was not disclosed due to "competitive reasons," according to Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower.

"When you consider the relationship between these types of apps and an analytics company, it makes a lot of sense -- especially considering our history as a startup," he said, adding that the company originally started with the goal of building an ad blocker. (He was unable to provide media coverage or other evidence of this early focus.)

He went on to explain that many of the apps are now defunct or are "in the process of sunsetting," which Buzzfeed points out is because they were removed from Apple and Google's App Stores due to policy violations.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed that a dozen Sensor Tower apps had previously been removed from the iOS ‌App Store‌ due to violations. Both Google and Apple are continuing to investigate Sensor Tower's apps, and more information on Sensor Tower's data collection practices can be found over at Buzzfeed News.

iOS users should be wary of installing VPN and ad-blocking apps from unknown developers, and should avoid apps that ask for certificates to be installed.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
7 months ago


Who is dumb enough to go to a third party website and download a profile, then, after seeing the warning iOS throws up, installing it anyway?

Up to 35 million people apparently. :D ;)
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago


Apple can’t review profiles that users choose to download from a third party website.

They can’t, but it’s hard to believe that when reviewing any app whose purpose is to block or redirect your internet traffic, a human doesn’t at least run through the setup process once to see if anything looks fishy.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
Who is dumb enough to go to a third party website and download a profile, then, after seeing the warning iOS throws up, installing it anyway?
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago


Apple once again let's something pass into the Apps store and then after it's been there for a long time and collected tons of user data removes it from the App Store. haha

Apple can’t review profiles that users choose to download from a third party website.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
analytics - the new big brorther
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
This is why I’ve started to delete many apps and use the mobile web site. At least with web site I can use blockers
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of 3rd party widgets at launch, iOS users around the...

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

Hands-On With the New Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE

Friday September 18, 2020 1:19 pm PDT by
Today's the official launch date for the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, both of which Apple announced on Tuesday. We picked up a couple of the new models and thought we'd give them a quick look for MacRumors readers thinking of ordering a new watch. Apple Watch Series 6 & Apple Watch SE Hands-On! When it comes to design, both the $399 Series 6 and the $279 SE look just like...

iOS 14 Picture in Picture No Longer Working With YouTube's Mobile Website in Safari [Without Premium]

Friday September 18, 2020 12:21 pm PDT by
Apple in iOS 14 added Picture in Picture to the iPhone, a feature designed to let you watch a video in a small screen on your device while you continue to do other things on the phone. When Picture in Picture was working with YouTube The YouTube app doesn't support Picture in Picture, but up until yesterday there was a functional workaround that allowed videos from YouTube.com to be watched...

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...

Here's How You Can Download iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 Around the World [It's Out]

Wednesday September 16, 2020 2:36 am PDT by
Apple's official public release of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 dropped on Wednesday, September 16, just a day after the company released the Golden Master to third-party developers. Also set to be made available to the general public for the first time are watchOS 7 and tvOS 14. Getting Started With iOS 14 Video Click image to watch iOS 14 Getting Started While that's left a lot of developers...

AirPods Studio Rumored to Come With U1 Chip, Ultra-Wideband Said to Be Vital to Future Apple Ecosystem

Sunday September 20, 2020 6:17 am PDT by
Proven leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared a range of information about the ultra-wideband U1 chip in Apple's upcoming AirTags item trackers and AirPods Studio headphones. The first of a series of tweets shared today simply stated that AirPods Studio will contain an ultra-wideband U1 chip. It seems likely that the U1 chip would be used in AirPods Studio to track the location of...

Kuo: Apple to Accelerate Adoption of Mini-LED Displays in iPad and Mac Notebook Lineups

Sunday September 20, 2020 10:00 pm PDT by
Increased competition among Apple's suppliers for mini-LED display chips will accelerate the company's adoption of the advanced technology in its iPad and MacBook lineups, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by MacRumors. Kuo says that while Epistar had been predicted to be the exclusive supplier of mini-LED chips for Apple products in 2021, Sanan Optoelectronics...

Top Stories: Apple Event Recap, Apple Watch Series 6, Redesigned iPad Air, and More

Saturday September 19, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
This week's news was obviously dominated by Apple's media event and the launch of iOS 14, but there was a lot to digest, so check out our summary below for the high-level view of the past week. With the exception of the massively redesigned iPad Air, all of the new hardware introduced this week is starting to appear on store shelves and on customers' doorsteps, while all of the new software...

Apple Updates AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro Firmware to Version 3A283

Monday September 14, 2020 11:24 am PDT by
Apple today released new 3A283 firmware updates for the second-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro. The second-generation AirPods are being updated from the 2D15 firmware they were previously running, while the AirPods Pros are being updated from the 2D27 firmware they had installed previously. Apple does not provide details on what's included in refreshed firmware so we don't know what's ...